Carnegie Mellon University

About the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards

Students Explore Personal Experiences with Difference and Discrimination through Writing


From violence, to bigotry, to bias and discrimination of all kinds, teens and young adults are not immune to the ugly side of humanity.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards provides an outlet for young people to express their personal experiences with difference and discrimination through poetry and prose. Co-sponsored by Carnegie Mellon's Department of English, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, and Dietrich College, the awards are open to all currently enrolled high school and college students in western Pennsylvania and all Carnegie Mellon campuses. Submissions for the 2020 competition are due on Sunday, November 24, 2019. Read the press release for the 2020 awards competition here. 

Founded in 1999 by Jim Daniels, the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English, the awards are based on the belief that the process of writing itself can help young people break down issues of difference. According to Daniels, "The awards prompt students to think about Martin Luther King, Jr. in the context of their everyday lives." 

The top three winners in each category receive cash prizes and read to an audience of hundreds at Carnegie Mellon University during a celebration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 20, 2020). Honorable mentions and the best entries from each participating school are also recognized. A book of the award-winning work is published and distributed at the event. The online archive of these books—as well as our anthology, Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards—keeps the discussion alive by making the students' work accessible to an even larger audience. Winners are also featured in local print and broadcast media and included in readings and discussions in Pittsburgh and beyond. 

Thousands of students have participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards to date, and the number of schools represented continues to grow. To deepen and broaden our engagement, we visit schools to offer workshops that promote writing about difference and discrimination. A free online study guide to the anthology enables educators anywhere to use the works for discussion and writing prompts.  

The Fall Speakers Series complements the awards by bringing to Carnegie Mellon's campus two authors whose work reflect the goals and values of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards. Their readings are free and open to the public. 

View the video below to learn more about the awards. Follow the links to hear about the inception of the awards from its founder and director, read the prizewinning works, and get details on the annual awards celebration.  

Our Staff

Jim Daniels is the Thomas Stockham Baker University Professor of English and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards, which he founded in 1999. He has taught at Carnegie Mellon since 19981. Poetry, fiction, and screenwriting are his primary research and teaching interests. He is the author of six fiction collections, seventeen poetry collections, four produced screenplays, and has edited or co-edited six anthologies, including Challenges to the Dream: The Best of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards (2017). His recent books include The Middle Ages (2018), Street Calligraphy and Rowing Inland (both 2017), poetry; and The Perp Walk (2019) and Eight Mile High (2014), short fiction.


Maureen Rolla joined the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Writing Awards as its administrative coordinator in 2018, after a career in publishing and educational and museum administration. She is a proud alumna of Carnegie Mellon’s Department of English and also holds a master's degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University.